'Tech abuse' and stalkerware: the worrying trend - in depth - Gateley
In depth

'Tech abuse' and stalkerware: the worrying trend

Gateley Legal

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There are 2.4 million victims of domestic abuse per year of which 66% are women.  Quite worryingly, Refuge, whose domestic abuse hotline is funded by the Home Office, have recently declared that of 72% of users on their hotline report abuse through technology.  

How is abuse through technology possible? 

The Domestic Abuse Bill received its first reading on the 3 March 2020 in the new Government (it fell after the second reading due to the dissolution of Parliament) and promises to encompass new trends such a “tech abuse” where abusers are using home devices and smart gadgets to control victims and future proof against new ways to controlling victims.

How is this possible? You would be surprised what one human being is capable and willing to do to another, and as family lawyers we are seeing more varied and inventive ways for perpetrators to abuse their victims with tech abuse is on the rise at a frighteningly fast pace.  Gone are the days when the abuse of an adult or child was clear to see from the bruises they wore.

What is tech abuse?

It is the ability to use “smart technology” against a person by another.  Ever seen a film where a prisoner is tortured through psychological techniques including blaring loud heavy metal music or the sound of a baby crying for hours and the sensory assault of bright lights or continuous darkness?  Now consider how your smart devices allow you to control your home environment with ease and convenience.  

But what if devices are being used against you to stalk, isolate and control you by a current or former spouse/partner?  Does your smart device control your heating, music system or lights throughout your house?  What if someone was using that technologyl against you, by turning on lights or increasing and decreasing your heating at anti-social times during the day and night to make you feel uncomfortable or scared.  What if they could play loud music into your home, or bedroom whenever they wanted?  
How many partners share passwords for music streaming accounts and who can change your music choices whilst you are listening to them?  Did you know webcams and Skype Apps can be used to spy on you in your own home?

When you consider the possibilities for abusing an ex spouse or partner, you realise that using an 'exs' password to log into their personal email account or simply using a device into which they are automatically logged in (like a previously shared tablet or laptop) is now considered old school.  
We have had clients whose child seats have been “bugged” with microphones, or small cameras placed around their home so that they can be watched. These new forms of tech abuse enable perpetrators to abuse victims in real time.

What is stalkerware?

There is now an emerging danger called stalkerware and it is also very real. 
If you access a person’s mobile phone you can effectively access their mind (personal thoughts recorded in notes or voice memos) and their personal life (photo gallery, social media apps, and GPS), and even their working life too.  

It is now increasingly possible to utilise commercial spyware making accessing another person’s phone a reality.  Stalkerware is a commercially available programme that is installed on a device by a perpetrator to spy on someone else.  This requires physical access to the device but for a current partner/spouse this is often not a problem or they can even trick a target into installing the spyware themselves.  They can then pay a company for access to a portal which gleams all the information from the device. Not only is this now relatively cheap to do and the software readily available to purchase but the majority of anti-virus software does not even recognise these programmes as malicious.  Therefore, a person is unlikely to ever know it is installed on their device.  

What to do next?

If you are the victim of domestic abuse of any kind, physical, emotional, psychological, financial or technological, seek legal advice in respect of protection orders available to you.

Get in touch with support services such as the Police, domestic abuse charities, refuges and counselling

Our family law experts advise on all aspects of relationship and family matters relating to the individual, their family, their property and their business interests. For more information visit our families page.
 

 

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